'The Devil Inside' Prevails: Score One for the Found-Footage Horror Craze

Some audience members booed while others were fooled, but the film turned a big profit.

Devil inside hair lady box office post 615 paramount.jpg

Paramount

Was anyone fooled by the pretense of reality in the new exorcism flick The Devil Inside, which was shot in the found-footage style of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity? Looks like yes. The film cuts out at the end and directs viewers to www.therossifiles.com to talk about what they saw. A glance at the discussion there shows plenty of people leaving comments wondering whether the film was, in fact, "based on a true story" as it claims—and a few even expressing doubt that the people who were on screen were actually actors. (There's also this charming comment: "This movie made me vomit uncontrollably...in a good way.")

But whether or not everyone was convinced by the movie, plenty of people, at least, saw it. The Devil Inside surpassed industry expectations and defied nasty reviews to haul in $35.4 million at the box office since opening Friday, making for the biggest first weekend of a new year ever, according to Deadline Hollywood. In a way, it's fitting that a film that crosses The Exorcist with the in-vogue, consumerist, contagious-zombie trope would bring in a lot of money. Nikki Finke chalks the film's success up to marketing:

It was a no-brainer for the studio to debut the trailer on October 21st with Paranormal Activity. The Halloween time period also proved key online, with viral scare videos and 911 calls pushed to fans. Since the film was acquired for just $1m, Paramount also kept the marketing cheap, cheap, cheap. The TV ads kicked off during AMC's The Walking Dead finale November 27th. There was a big ethnic push. The Hispanic campaign included English and Spanish language nets, wild posting, digital boards, and radio in the top 12 Hispanic markets. Branded horror programming roadblocks were placed on Sify, Chiller, AMC's Fear Friday , and IFC Fright Night . Select targets for high-profile finales included Terra Nova and American Horror Story . And getting into the holiday spirit, the studio made a red band trailer as well as 10-sec scary radio spots to counter-program Christmas and New Year's Eve across all 6 live network and cable late night shows covering festivities. (No wonder the heartland hates Hollywood…)

Industry observers in news stories seem to agree there'll be a big drop-off for the film's box office in the coming weeks: Many viewers apparently booed the movie's abrupt ending, which can't be good for word-of-mouth buzz. Even so, as Scott Meslow pointed out in last week's Atlantic piece about The Devil Inside and the trend surrounding it, found-footage films are cheap to make, and successful ones spur copycats:

When a low-budget found-footage film manages to capture the public's imagination, the rewards are enormous. The Blair Witch Project grossed almost $250 million worldwide on a budget of less than $60,000. The original Paranormal Activity, which was filmed on a micro-budget of $15,000, grossed well over $100 million in the United States alone. Even if it flops, The Devil Inside (which was produced for around $1 million) will have no trouble making its production budget back.

In other words, expect list of movies below to get even longer in the coming years, thanks, in part, to The Devil Inside:

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

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